One of the best ways to teach is using unit studies in your homeschool. They allow us to pick a topic we are interested in and do a deep dive about it through a variety of resources and methods. They are perfect for nurturing child-directed learning.
For example, when our boys were in early elementary school, we spent a few months learning about the Revolutionary War. We read books, watched the Liberty Kids series, visited battlefields, created lapbooks, and even made a Lego model of a cabin at Valley Forge.
Unit studies are not only a great way to help our children learn about something they are interested in. But, they also allow us to learn about a topic in ways that are interesting to our children.
You can think about your child’s passions…maybe they like to read books, watch movies, make crafts, and/or cook. These activities can all be included in unit studies about a variety of topics.
Using Unit Studies in Your Homeschool
What Exactly is a Unit Study?
Unit studies incorporate a variety of activities from different subject areas that revolve around a theme. They are often multi-sensory in nature and can usually be used with a variety of ages.
A theme might be historical, such as women’s suffrage, or based on an area of science, such as electricity. They might revolve around a book or they might teach about a certain country or city. Or maybe you use a unit study to learn about current events. The possibilities are really endless!
This past spring, we added a unit study about viruses to our schedule a few days a week. Through reading, hands-on activities, and games we learned how viruses spread, how we can prevent them from spreading, how our bodies fight off viruses, and more! It really empowered our children by giving them the tools to stay healthy.
All in all, the goal of the unit study is to increase your child’s knowledge of the theme and to have that knowledge really stick with them since they are able to interact with the information in a variety of ways.
Parts of a Unit Study
A unit study may incorporate all of the subjects you are studying in school or just some of them.
Reading is easy to incorporate as you can have your children read age-appropriate books about your particular topic. You can include non-fiction and/or historical fiction books as well as biographies. For example, a study of electricity could include biographies about Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
Encouraging children to take notes about what they have read develops a critical skill they will make use of throughout their lives.
Writing is another easy skill to develop during unit studies as children can write an age-appropriate piece about what they have learned. Drawing can also be incorporated in this way by having children draw something they have observed or learned during the unit study.
Hands-on activities such as making crafts like this and recipes or performing experiments increase learning as well. Movies and field trips are great ways to help children visualize, contextualize, and review what they are learning in a unit study.
Some themes may lend themselves well to incorporating math activities to allow children to apply the math skills they have learned to a real-life situation.
When To Do Unit Studies
Some families choose to learn primarily through unit studies. Each unit study may last a few days or a few weeks.
Our style is to develop strong foundations through a structured curriculum and then add in unit studies to learn about topics that interest us. We typically spend 30-45 minutes a few days a week on a particular unit study. Sometimes we schedule longer sessions on Fridays, which are our ‘fun days’ where we don’t spend as much time on structured lessons.
We also do a lot of unit studies during the summer when we are taking a break from most of our academic work. This past summer we spent time learning about different countries. We often made a family evening out of it by cooking recipes from the country we were studying and watching a movie or documentary about that country.
Where To Find Unit Studies
Google and Pinterest are full of unit studies, both free and paid. Just type in your topic and “unit study” and see what you can find!
On our site, Peanut Butter Fish Lessons, we have a variety of FREE, themed unit studies based on books in series like Magic Tree House and Who Was…?
We have also shared our country unit studies that we completed this summer in our Around the World in 11 Weeks Series.
Teachers Pay Teachers can also be a great place to find unit studies. Some are designed for more classroom-based settings, but there is a lot for homeschoolers, too!
You will probably find when downloading a pre-made unit study that you and your children will find other activities to add to it to increase your learning. We often find ourselves using a unit study and going down a rabbit trail to learn much more about a certain aspect than we ever intended!
And you may find there are aspects of the unit study you don’t use because they don’t fit your children’s interests or passions well. That is ok!
Have you used unit studies in your homeschool? What tips or ideas would you share with other homeschool families?
This post was written by….
Randi Smith is a former speech-language therapist turned homeschool mom. She adapts curricula and activities to support her two boys who both have learning challenges. Blogging at Peanut Butter Fish Lessons gives her a creative outlet in the sometimes overwhelming chaos of homeschooling. When she is not teaching her boys or blogging, she enjoys reading, yoga, long walks while listening to podcasts, and exploring new places.
This article is a part of our How We Homeschool Series; a collection of content from full-time, veteran homeschoolers sharing their own experiences on the versatility and diversity of homeschooling. You can read more about the series, and see all of the content, by clicking the image below.